The Back Nine: Playing hard Step 1 for UF football

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Florida Gators receiver Kadarius Toney (17) runs with the ball during Spring Practice with new head coach Dan Mullen, at the Sanders Practice Fields on the UF campus in Gainesville. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

The Back Nine comes at you after one final weekend filled with college basketball played by both men and women and watching a baseball team that is on a major roll.

10. For anybody who watched Florida’s Friday football scrimmage in The Swamp, it was pretty clear that there was a lot of hesitation on both sides of the ball. Dan Mullen confirmed that in his Monday news conference, talking a lot about a lack of consistency and players trying to find their comfort level. But what else would we expect? “It’s about getting the team ready for the fall,” he said. Yep. The scrimmage was hardly an advertisement for Florida being a Top-25 team, but nobody is playing real football games right now. Yes, the Gators were inconsistent and “herky-jerky” as Mullen described it. They’ve only had a handful of practices with this staff. They need to play better football, but they are playing hard and that is step No. 1. Step No. 2 is getting guys to understand why they are doing what they are doing and that takes time. I loved this from Mullen — “If you go hard, we can teach you how to play football.”

11. Maybe football has it right. At the end of the season, there are so many teams who finish with a win because of the bowl system that there are a lot of happy fans. In basketball, there are 67 losers as of Monday night and none of them — not even Loyola of Chicago — feels good about their final game. It’s basically 67 shades of depression. Based on that premise, I think six of the eight teams in the NCAA Tournament (now that we have some separation from their losses) probably didn’t feel miserable about the way their seasons ended. Depressed? Yes. But other than Auburn, which was taken to the woodshed by Clemson, and first-round losers Arkansas and Missouri it wasn’t that bad a showing. Tennessee, Kentucky and Florida had shots at the end that didn’t go down. A&M will always have that rout of North Carolina. Alabama lost to Villanova. No shame in that. The SEC isn’t going away as a basketball conference. What the league lacked this year was a dominant team, in part because the conference schedule was so tough. It’s not going to get any easier in 2018-19.

12. I have been asked this question and been part of several discussions about this, so I ask you. Is it possible that this year’s Florida baseball team is better than last year’s? You know, the one that won a national title. First of all, you can’t really be better than a sweep in the national title final series and you can only win your first title once. But there is no question that this year’s team has better results at this point and certainly more power and clutch hitting. I also get where Kevin O’Sullivan was coming from when he talked about how he hopes his team plays the way it has for the last two weeks at the end of the season. I joked with him, “I’ve got the headline, ‘Sully Says Gators Peaking Too Early.’” There are two reasons this team is playing so well — 1. It’s an older team that has been in a lot of big games, which is a contributing factor to the number of run-producing two-out hits this season. 2. The Gators have stayed relatively healthy. Last year’s team led the league in hamate bone injuries before we knew what a hamate bone was. Also, the infield has been solidified with the return of Deacon Liput and Wil Dalton has been a huge surprise at the plate. OK, that’s four reasons. Still, it’s a long way to go just to get to the postseason.

13. Major League Baseball is in full swing so, of course, we have already had players get upset over one of the silly “unwritten rules” of the game. Minnesota’s players were upset that Baltimore’s Chance Sisco bunted for a hit against an infield shift in the ninth inning of a 7-0 game. How dare he try and get on base and start a rally?

14. Something I never thought I’d hear myself say, “We need to be done with dinner in time to watch the women’s championship basketball game.” That’s not a sexist thing, but a UConn thing. Nothing is as boring as a tournament where you have all one seeds in the Final Four and you already know the eventual champion. But the semifinal games were tremendous and then Sunday night’s game was amazing. Yes, it was a terrible no-call when the official staring right at the play missed an obvious Notre Dame foul on the last scramble play before the game-winner. But the finish was spectacular. And Mississippi State did blow a 15-point lead. The bottom line is that I enjoyed it because it was a televised athletic event with a edge-of-your-seat ending. Maybe women’s basketball, which has the rules that the men may soon have, like quarters and advancing the ball to half-court in the final minute, made a big leap if it pulled me in. All we really want is for it to be unscripted and the last two years have provided that.

15. If this week was a Beatles song, it would be “Don’t Let Me Down” and, yes, I would be singing it from the rooftop. This Masters might be the most anticipated golf tournament ever with Tiger Woods returning with some game, Phil Mickelson feeling it, Jordan Spieth playing better, Rory McIlroy in championship shape and on and on I could go. So don’t let me down. Please. I mean, it hardly ever does because of the drama that is inherent on the golf course, but this one has the potential to really be something. You have my permission to spend your new-found UF parking ticket refund on snacks and sodas and take Thursday and Friday off to watch. Once again, I appreciate Mullen pushing the spring game back a week and closing Saturday’s scrimmage so we can enjoy. My pick (so you know who won’t win)? I’ll take Jason Day, who leads the Tour in putting.

16. Players whining about the new rules about helmet-to-helmet contact need to get a grip. Obviously, we have been dealing with this in the college game for several years and it hasn’t made the game any less interesting. It has made it safer. This macho crap has permeated the game for too long. And the NFL enabled it until forced to accept the long-term impact concussions have on players. I’ll be fine if they do away with kickoffs as well in both college and pro football. Here’s the thing — even if you are vehement in your desire not to change the game, you don’t stop watching when it happens. You adjust. Evolve or fade away. Your choice.

17. The Tweet of the Week comes from Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples — “There was some straight-up Chris Farley Show interviewing in a couple of those locker rooms tonight. ‘Do you remember when you hit that three-pointer? That was awesome.’ I blame the fact that everyone has overdosed on tacos.” I have to admit that the Final Four — and I have been to four — isn’t my favorite thing to cover because, like the Super Bowl, it can get ridiculous.

18. The Back Nine hopes everybody had a lovely Easter Sunday (the live “Jesus Christ Superstar” Sunday night was the perfect way to finish it off) and I hope I don’t spoil it with this playlist:

“If You Wanna Stay Awhile” by Brian Dunne.

“I Can’t Quit” by The Vaccines.

“Oh Amelia” by my old friend Dave Sheinin and when you’ve played Augusta National together you are friends for life.

“Subject to Status” by Alternative Radio.

And for an old one from an old man who feels older every day (which does make some sense) “Fool In The Rain” by Led Zeppelin.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Been to Augusta National three times and one of those, my work group were guest in the Club House all day! Tough part was we had to behave like we had been there before. Ate fried chicken on the back porch as we watched players on the practice green, etc. The whole place is more beautiful in person than on TV! My top five to win this week:

    (1) Justin Thomas, playing like world’s #1, every tournament
    (2) Rory, if he can have a good hitting week and putt OK
    (3) Stinson, If he turns it on
    (4) Phil, knows the place and is maybe playing his best golf in 10 years
    (5) Jason Day, BUT is he tough enough…hummmm?

    Note: Not betting on Tiger, depended on driving iron to survive Tampa, that won’t work at Augusta and he just hasn’t yet played enough and Augusta is like walking in the Smokey Mountains. That will test his high tech stiff back! He will have to prove to me he can control his driver, especially on 10, 11, 13, 17 & 18 on Sunday. Can he hit it straight during high drama? He hasn’t been there yet, except 16 at API on Sunday when it really counted!

  2. When an old-school sportswriter pontificates: “Players whining about the new rules about helmet-to-helmet contact need to get a grip. Obviously, we have been dealing with this in the college game for several years and it hasn’t made the game any less interesting. It has made it safer. This macho crap has permeated the game for too long.”, then the feminization of America has been completed. I’ll bet you now wear skinny jeans and substitute soy products for meat. No wonder boys and young men are so rudderless these days; “macho crap”, in football, really? Players wearing dresses can’t be far away.

      • The end of civilization being considered a joke is telling; it won’t be so funny when you grow up and your culture has been replaced by a more masculine one. There are a number of studies that show how declining masculinity in a society undermines social cohesion; masculinity being considered “toxic” among many in the USA today is the canary in the coal mine. Here is a very short explanation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFyIzoBwXVk

        • Interesting. My bias is a little more isolated, having been a soldier for the first 32 years of my adult life, but I see it playing out in the Army now just as much as I do in the civilian world around me. I still enjoy being a man though, Huah?

          • I apologize for misreading your first comment and taking it the wrong way. Amen, brother.

    • HELMIT TO HELMIT GREAT RULE, but i hate seeing offensive player helmet moving left of right or up or down into the defensive player ( and defensive player getting the penalty. That happens a lot.
      Plus last i heard it is OK for runners to put their helmets down to collide with defensive player. What is the deference?
      Lots of these penalties come from initial contact with pads before contact with helmet.
      Also lots of face mast to face mask. No matter who initiates contact. def penalty.

      I am OK with penalizing defender that takes advantage of poor unprotected offensive player.
      I can not recall the last time i saw the old time play where defender drills (head hunts) offensive player. Rule seems to have eliminated that for the most part.

  3. Yes, this year’s baseball team is better than last year’s. I love following Gator baseball. Our veterans and rookies are all hitting better and our pitching is just as good.

    But that does not guarantee a NC. Florida has sent better teams to the World Series than last year’s team. There is a reason the pros play best of seven playoff series and any team can get hot in a double elimination format.

    So sit back, enjoy, hope for the best, and look forward to the future when we will have covered seating. And enjoy the benefits of having a super coach we never grumble about.

  4. ”This macho crap has permeated the game for too long.” -Pat Dooley.
    Football in its entirety is a game of ”macho crap”, Pat. The soft teams get 4-7 records at the end of the year. While I agree hurling your body through the air like a missile is a dangerous thing (to the missile and to the recipient), it’s what we once called, ”spearing”. In fact it is more like, ”kamikaze”. But incidental contact to the helmet will ALWAYS happen in this ”macho” game of football.

    • Spearing has ALWAYS been a penalty. And I think we know it when we see it. The college rule where a guy ducks his head a split second before contact should NOT result in the other player getting thrown out of the game. Likewise, a pass rusher getting tripped/dragged down while reaching for a QB and then landing on the QB’s knee is NOT a dirty play. It is just a football play. Football is a rough game. Maybe the answer is less padding, less equipment, smaller face masks. Maybe if these guys feel at risk for themselves, they will play with more respect for their competitors. Aussie Rules Football and Rugby are brutal and beautiful games – played with less equipment than American Football. Maybe they know something we don’t know.

  5. sportswriters get to set the narrative on these teams, which cant be too low and underperforming against the narrative is bad too. we have a baseball team that makes you realize how much it will take for the football team to be as good…sports will always have bad endings, and it seems to take almost 3 good moments to make up for every bad one – if music is bad, you turn off the song and forget about it, usually at least, not so with sports – like jack lemmon said (forgive my bad quoting) at the end of the legend of bagger vance – makes you wonder why anyone plays at all – the game cant be won, it can only be played…

  6. It’s sad, and galling, to see the level of arrogance Dooley is starting to hit. He’s been a PC guy for years (remember the “Swamp Swami”?) and generally leans to the safe side, from which to moralize to the lesser.

    Here’s the quote: “Here’s the thing — even if you are vehement in your desire not to change the game, you don’t stop watching when it happens. You adjust. Evolve or fade away. Your choice.” Dooley will rationalize his sneering at us by shrugging and saying to himself, “but uh, yeah, I’m right.” It is the worst,most devious condescension. Recall that this is the writer that was all-in for McElwain, telling us fans to stop complaining and get a grip; then he writes a puff-piece/free ad for Mac’s BBQ sauce as an article, and STILL won’t come clean about it or in any way acknowledge such as the glaring impropriety that it was (c’mon Pat, you are paid to write articles about sports, but you write about a coach’s side venture, from which he hopes to score, a piece for which you are paid. Payola by any other name…)

    Dooley does not respect his readers or any desire to retain a world view counter to his “evolved” sensibilities. Let the world be golf, basketball, or anything else happy, fun, and safe year ‘round, and a middle finger to the sport and fans that built his livelihood. And please, let’s be mature about it.

  7. Pat, Miss. St. got “Notre Damed”. You know what that means. If the only difference had been the uniform (MSU player clocking ND player in the head), that would have been a foul 100 times out of 100.